Orange County Register
July 22, 2018

California policymakers are infatuated with renewable energy and electric vehicles. But the record-breaking heat wave that hit the state earlier this month which left more than 30,000 customers in Los Angeles without electricity for several hours, is exposing the dangers of that infatuation.

A quick bit of background: On July 6, the temperature hit 108 degrees in Los Angeles. A day later it hit 104 degrees, roughly 20 degrees hotter than normal. The scalding temperatures led to record electricity demand forcing the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to ask customers to voluntarily cut their electricity use.

If climate forecasters are right, and hotter temperatures are the new normal in California, then the pain has just begun. Indeed, the unreliable nature of renewable energy, combined with subsidies for electric vehicles that will increase electricity demand, and the closure of the state’s nuclear plants, will mean higher bills and likely more blackouts for California consumers.

California has mandated that the state’s utilities obtain half of their electricity from renewables by 2030. Although that mandate has a feel-good political appeal, data from the California Energy Commission shows that wind and solar energy are ill-suited to meet the strain placed on the grid by intense heat waves. For instance, on July 6, peak wind-energy production occurred at about midnight while solar photovoltaic production peaked at about 1:25 pm. Unfortunately, electricity demand peaked at about 45,000 megawatts at 5 pm and stayed at that level for the next two hours.

The sweltering heat kept electricity demand high. By 10 pm, demand was still over 40,000 megawatts. Of course, at that time, solar production was precisely zero and wind generation was less than 2,700 megawatts.

Renewable-energy proponents will surely argue that this problem can be solved by adding batteries to the California grid. Sure, batteries could help shift some renewable-energy output from one time of day to another. But adding enough battery storage — which in California’s case would amount to thousands of megawatt-hours of capacity — will mean additional costs for California beleaguered ratepayers, who already pay some of the highest residential rates in the continental U.S. Add in the fact that batteries perform poorly when the weather is too cold or too hot, and the challenge of electricity storage becomes more obvious.

Electric vehicles will place additional strain on the state’s grid. In January, Gov. Jerry Brown mandated that 5 million EVs must be on California’s roads by 2025, along with 250,000 public charging stations. Those millions of EVs will increase electricity demand. Given that the California grid is already having trouble keeping the lights on during heat waves, even relatively small increments of new demand could cause trouble.

Those EV mandates will also be costly. In a May report for the Manhattan Institute, Jonathan Lesser, the president of Continental Economics, estimated that in California alone, the total cost of EV subsidies, when counting all federal tax credits and state rebates for EV purchases, along with subsidies for public and private charging stations, could exceed $100 billion.

Finally, let’s look at nuclear energy, which provides stable, dependable, greenhouse-gas-free electricity regardless of the weather. In 2013, California state officials negotiated the premature shutdown of the 2,254-megawatt San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in Pendleton. San Onofre’s output wasn’t replaced by renewables. Instead, Lucas Davis, a professor at UC Berkeley’s Energy Institute at Haas, found that the shuttering of the plant resulted in increased use of natural gas-fired electricity and that in the first year after San Onofre was shuttered, California’s carbon dioxide emissions rose by 9 million tons.

In 2025, the state will lose its last remaining nuclear plant when the 2,256-megawatt Diablo Canyon Power Plant near San Luis Obispo will be closed. That plant is being shuttered due to continued opposition from environmental groups. By itself, Diablo Canyon produces about 18 terawatt-hours of electricity per year. That’s about 40 percent more output than all of the wind turbines in California.

Californians already pay about 60 percent more for their electricity than residents of other states. Furthermore, according to a recent analysis by the Berkeley-based think tank, Environmental Progress, between 2011 and 2017, California’s electricity rates rose at more than five times the rate of electricity prices in the rest of the U.S. Those rates are soaring at the very same time the state is shutting down its nuclear plants even though those plants provide reliable sources of zero-emission electricity.

The punchline here is obvious: If more heat waves are coming, renewable energy alone won’t keep Californians cool.

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